This time around on Reading Trinacria the focus is on novels which have been written by foreign based authors, who have been inspired by Sicily or who have to set their works within a specific Sicilian historical period.
Sicily is a perfect place for lovers of historical novels, it is such an evocative place, bursting with the energy of a palpable history which seeps into everything on the island.
The Sicilian migrant diaspora is also one of the most creative spawning a genre which draws from Sicilian culture, family history and the collective migrant experience. First generation, second generation and even sometimes third generation Sicilian writers have been inspired by their heritage and continue to create beautiful literary works dedicated to Sicily.
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Anthony Di Renzo: Trinacria: A Tale Of Bourbon Sicily.
One of the most surprising discoveries on my journey to know and understand Sicily better has been Anthony Di Renzo’s book Trinàcria which evokes the spirit of Sicily as eloquently as any Quasimodo poem or scene from The Leopard a Sicilian masterpiece penned by Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s.
Di Renzo gathers the threads of Bourbon Sicily and its most vibrant characters to bring their energy back to life. With the voice of the long dead ghost of Marchesa of Scalea he creates an eccentric aristocratic character filled with sarcasm, arrogance and shrewd observation.
Di Renzo has chosen one of Sicily’s most rich periods for his backdrop filled with social change, revolution and inevitable decadence. The eloquence of Sicilian history is enthralling and the Bourbon period speaks as loudly to us as any other part of Sicily.
I managed to interview Anthony Di Renzo, read our interview here.
Angelo F Coniglio: The Lady of the Wheel.
A wonderfully personal journey into the poverty, misery and dignity of the insular world of Nineteenth Century Sicilian peasantry. This labor of love is passionate and detailed as it takes us deep into a Verga like realistic world of small village life with heartfelt pathos and a veil of ancient dialect.
The Lady of the Wheel is the story of Maria Rizzo who is left alone to birth and give up her fifth child. Hiding the pregnancy from the community, in the heart of a harsh Sicilian winter, Maria dresses her beautiful green eyed baby girl in the only fine clothes the family owns, a dolls dress and goes to the church to deposit the child in a special rotating door, designed to gather up foundlings for adoption. We follow the story of Maria and her daughter and their journey to find one another.
Tariq Ali: A Sultan in Palermo
This is the fourth and penultimate novel in Ali’s celebrated Islam Quintet. Ali is a wonderful writer and recreates the Norman court of Frederick the Second in all of its political intrigue, illuminated glory and splendour.
Tariq Ali is a masterful writer who manages to weave the fascinating history of the Sicilian Arab period, which was considered to be a part of Sicily’s history filled with intellectual development which predated the Italian Renaissance, into a vivid tapestry which is a joy to read.
Barry Unsworth: The Ruby in Her Navel.
Barry Unsworth’s novel has become part of the literary canon when it comes to historical novels set in Sicily.
Unsworth takes the Arab period in Sicilian history and brings it to life again in a vivid, sensual and spiritual dream.
This classic tale of exotic Sicily is currently out of print but is well worth tracking down in a local library.
Venero Armanno: The volcano, Firehead, Black mountain, The Lonely Hunter, Romeo of the Underworld
The Sicilian themed novels by Venero Armanno, the son of Sicilian migrants to Australia, are a homage to the Sicily of post world war two and beyond.
In the words of Armanno himself, each of these books are, in their own way, about family and love, the effects of the migrant experience on first and second generation migrants and the search for the self.
Armanno’s writing style is sensuous, lyric and heart achingly beautiful to read, a true joy for everyone.
The volcano is a novel of emotion, passion and fire set in the Shadowlands of Mt Etna and tells us of the epic journey Emilio Aquila takes from Sicily to Brisbane Australia.
Firehead is a wonderfully sensual story about Sicilian migrants to Australia and a young man’s obsession over the disappearance of his neighbor, the read headed Firehead of the title.
Armanno’s latest publication The Black Mountain tells the story of a boy sold into slavery to work in the sulphur mines of 1940’s Caltanissetta, Sicily.
While The Lonely Hunter and its sequel Romeo of the Underworld tells the story of Romeo Costanzo and the gallery of characters he meets in the seedy underbelly of Brisbane, sprinkled with strange haunting memories from a family past he can never shake.
I was lucky speak to Venero Armanno about his work and creative process, read the interview here.
Ann Ward Radcliffe: A Sicilian Romance.
For lovers of well written rambling historical gothic romance.
A Sicilian Romance is a long, intriguing and winding journey through the picturesque Sicilian landscape with many surprises along the way.
Ann Radcliffe was an 18th Century English author and pioneer of the Gothic novel. Her style is Romantic in its vivid descriptions of landscapes and long travel scenes, yet the Gothic element elements create an intriguing blend of twists and turns through the plot and elements the supernatural make for an rich journey.
This fascinating little read is available as a free ebook on the Project Gutenberg page here.
Cecelia Holland: Great Maria.
Great Maria is about a woman living in eleventh century Sicily, the daughter of a fictional Norman robber baron.
To her credit, Holland makes no attempt to provide the reader with a broad-brush view of the region’s complex politics, a patchwork of Lombards, Normans and Saracens struggling for control over various pieces and portions of the land. She simply plunges us into Maria’s world.
Great Maria is the intimate story of a woman living in Norman Sicily making her way through life by a strategic marriage, guile, courage and love.
Unfortunately the Great Maria is out of print but I recommend tracking down a copy from your local public library.
What other great reads have you come across written in English and set in or inspired by Sicily? Let me know in the comments below …